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Spending summer with the flu

October 24, 2010

GLOCESTER - Alesia Razumova and Hannah Fast, who graduated from Ponaganset High School last June, could have spent their summer before starting college going to the beach or hanging out with friends.
Instead, the two girls spent most of their summer vacation as research assistants hunkered down in the high school library pouring over historical and death records in Rhode Island to find evidence of the 1918-19 epidemic of Spanish flu that killed thousands of people worldwide.
Razumova and Fast joined Ponganset High School history teacher Donald E. Reuker, Jr. and math teacher David J. Brouillard to work on the project called "Studying the Spanish Flu Through Local Town Records," which was funded by a $1,982 grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
The project has been developed into a new collaborative unit of study for history and math that will allow teachers throughout the state to help their students integrate skills learned in those disciplines by conducting an authentic investigation of Scituate's local historical records.
The project was conducted in four phases. The students’ work in the early phases provided Reuker and Brouillard with opportunities to observe the problems and successes associated with engaging students with authentic local records in a research project. Razumova and Fast also took on the actual task of transcribing the records into a database.
The first phase of the project was to digitize and transcribe the town of Scituate’s death records from the years 1910 to 1920 into an easy to read and reference database. The team generated user friendly graphics and charts to illustrate the study results. The team then used statistical analysis to determine the severity of the Spanish Flu epidemic in the town of Scituate.
The project's second phase included the writing of an interdisciplinary history-math unit using the transcribed material described above. The unit was written by Reuker and Brouillard. The history portion of the unit will be written for use in history and math classes at the high school level not only at Ponganset, but at high schools throughout the state.
The entire database and unit has been posted on the Foster-Glocester Regional School District’s website and letters have been sent to history and math department chairs at each high school across the state inviting them to investigate and use the material in their schools.
"The primary goal of this project was to create a unit of study that fosters cooperation between high school history and math teachers by utilizing local historical records in an authentic research project," Reuker explained. "The finished product may be used by educators around the state as a complete study by itself or it can be extended as a model for investigation in their home communities using their own local records."
Additionally, Reuker said, the project extended an opportunity for Razumova and Fast to participate in the development of a genuine investigation of historic records as research assistants.
"A logical extension of this goal is to help and encourage teachers and students to seek and use more of the records that are available locally," said Reuker, who served as the project’s primary author and study leader and director for the history component. "Many of these records are rarely examined by local citizens and almost never by high school students."
A secondary goal of the project was to encourage teachers and students to extend their investigation of the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 to other related topics both from the early 20th century up to the current day. For example, what connections can be made between the events of 1918 and the recent Swine Flu
epidemic?
At a minimum, the finished project will serve about 40 students at Ponaganset High School this year. However, the unit will also be made available serve each of the approximately 65 high schools across the state of Rhode Island.
"The potential for exposing a large portion of the state’s high school student population is significant," said Brouillard who served as the project's co-author and assistant supervisor for the statistical analysis component.
One of the team's most significant findings is that the number of influenza/pneumonia deaths in the 1918/19 data is more than three standard deviations above the mean. This is an out-of-control signal and indicates that there were a statistically significant number of influenza/pneumonia deaths in the 1918/19 data.
"This confirms what we would expect from the Spanish flu pandemic, and indicates that the Spanish flu was far deadlier in Scituate than flus from the other years that we observed and that this was not just a small jump in flu deaths but was instead a major statistically significant flu event," Reuker said..
The number of influenza/pneumonia deaths among the data in all of the other years is lower than average, but still within two standard deviations of the mean, he said.
"This means that the numbers of influenza/pneumonia deaths deaths in those years are completely within our preexisting expectations," he said
As for Razumova and Fast, they are both attending coolege this fall. Razumova is attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Fast is attending
Bethel University in Minnisota.
Anyone interested in more information in the Spanish Flu unit can log onto the the district's website at www.fg.k12.ri.us/. The link is the last button on the left hand margin called Spanish Flu.

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